Mace Neufeld

Mace Neufeld in his home in Beverly Hills. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

His management business — he represented musicians and actors, including Don Knotts, Chaka Khan and Jim Croce — brought him to Los Angeles.

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"June 10, 1962, at 1:30 in the afternoon I landed here with two little boys and my wife with not a lot of money but an office. I never looked back," he said. His first Hollywood premiere was "Lawrence of Arabia."

He switched from management to film and TV in the 1970s, producing "The Omen," which starred Gregory Peck and redefined the notion of creepy little boys, and the television miniseries "East of Eden." In 1990, he turned Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October," a tale about a Soviet submarine captain seeking to defect with the help of CIA analyst Jack Ryan, into a hit. That led to a succession of Jack Ryan films, including "Patriot Games," starring Harrison Ford, and "The Sum of All Fears," starring Ben Affleck.

Ryan — virtuous, indefatigable, quick of mind — has protected America from its evolving fears: the Cold War, drug cartels, nuclear trafficking and, in the franchise's latest incarnation, which was distributed by Paramount, a terrorist attack and a Russian plot to crash financial markets. The film did not receive rave reviews and was overshadowed at the box office by "Ride Along," "Lone Survivor" and "The Nut Job."

Ryan has become a kind of fictional son — or perhaps alter ego — to the producer. Branagh said Neufeld was adamant that budget constraints would not force cutting a costly helicopter crash scene that was integral to Ryan's backstory. "He definitely stood up about that," the director said. "He does use his sage maturity. He said, 'The helicopter must stay in.'"

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Next up for Neufeld is "The Equalizer," starring Denzel Washington and based on the TV series about a retired intelligence officer. Another man of intrigue in the lens but Neufeld, who before filming "The Hunt for Red October" was invited by the U.S. Navy on a six-day submarine trip, has produced a diverse list of more than 40 films and television shows.

"I guess," he said. "I never counted."

He did recall, though, when he almost signed John Wayne. He was producing "The Frisco Kid" starring Gene Wilder in the late 1970s. He wanted Wayne to play the outlaw. The actor, who by then epitomized the creaky gunslinger, agreed but later refused to defer his $750,000 fee and backed out, Neufeld said.

"He got insulted," he said. "It was a great disappointment. He would have been great."

That brought to mind Neufeld's consuming, if unrequited, passion, better known as "The Outrider." It's a tale set in the late 1800s about a hanging judge and a deputy tracking a notorious bad guy in the Oklahoma Territories. Neufeld, who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, has shopped the script for 15 years.

"It's almost impossible to get a western made. They don't play well internationally," he said. "But I keep trying. ... I figure I'll continue doing movies as long as I can tie my own shoelaces."

He sat amid African wood carvings. A portrait of Frida Kahlo looked out to the pool. Margie chirped but uttered nothing. Gardeners swept grass clippings in the neighborhood where he has lived for half a century. All was neat; palms rose in tall, perfect lines. He looked around the room. It had been many years since he hurried through New York with the scrap of a song in his hand.

The house fell quiet. Even on such a street, a man over time distills certain realities into wisdom: "It's not that you're only as good as your last film. It doesn't matter what your last film was."

jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com